Nullification, The Bundy Ranch And Right-Wing Lawlessness

Does the right get a free pass to ignore laws? Is armed intimidation the way we decide which laws should be followed? Is conservative media whipping up the conditions for another Oklahoma City bombing? These questions are popping up with more and more frequency in light of recent events.

Armed Militia At Bundy Ranch

Flag-waving Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy refuses to pay cattle-grazing fees like other ranchers do, or even get a grazing permit, because he “doesn’t recognize the federal government.” The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), following years of federal court rulings, finally starts removing Bundy’s cattle from public land. The state’s Republican governor and Republican senator accuse the government of “intimidation” for enforcing the court’s rulings.

Think Progress has a good take on what happened next:

Egged on by media figures like Fox News’ Sean Hannity and Tea Party groups like the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, Bundy quickly became a conservative celebrity — including among right-wing fringe groups. By Wednesday, right-wing militia members began to arrive in Nevada to “provide armed response” to federal officials seeking to enforce the court order.

Whipped up by conservative media and politicians claiming “tyranny” and “intimidation”, the armed militia members arrived and began to make threats. Camouflaged militia snipers were photographed aiming at federal officers (a federal crime). The BLM decided to back off for the safety of its employees and the public. Conservative media declared a victory over the “tyranny” of the government.

Just as this conservative-media and conservative-politician frenzy of support for these armed militias reached a crescendo, a deranged white-supremacist opened fire at two Jewish-affiliated facilities in Kansas, killing three people. Coincidence?

Attacks On IRS

Because of a rule that nonprofits are not allowed to engage in politics, the IRS took a look at applicants (liberal and conservative) to see if they were or were not violating the law. In response Republicans in Congress and conservative media have been whipping up their claim that the Internal Revenue Service is “targeting” conservatives.

You can’t turn on the radio, look at FOX News or go to a conservative website without hearing and seeing this false claim repeated endlessly. And worse, Republican officeholders are endlessly repeating the lie.

Conservatives have created an atmosphere in which a website frequently linked by the conservative Drudge Report regularly posts headlines like “IRS intimidation scandal proves Second Amendment needed to stop government tyranny.” (How often do we hear conservatives and even Republican candidates for office talking about “second amendment solutions?”)

In the midst of this, the IRS wants Campaign for Liberty — Ron Paul-affiliated tax-exempt group — to provide its donor list, as the law requires. The group refuses.

Ron Paul’s nonprofit Campaign for Liberty will fight the Internal Revenue Service’s demand that it reveal its donor list to the agency, despite having already been fined for refusing to do so.

Fox News suggests the group is being “targeted.”

Gun-Law Nullification

In February 2013 Alaska passed a law nullifying federal gun laws. The bill “would exempt Alaskans from following federal gun laws. Federal agents who attempt to enforce them would be subject to felony charges.”

In April 2013 Kansas passed the “Second Amendment Protection Act,” also nullifying federal gun laws.

Last month Idaho’s governor signed a bill to nullify federal gun laws. Nat Journal: Idaho Has Declared It Won’t Obey New Federal Gun Laws,

Last Friday [March 21], Idaho passed a law declaring that the state does not have to abide by federal gun laws going forward. The law, which criminalizes the enforcement of federal gun laws, passed unanimously in both the House and the Senate and takes effect immediately.

Under the new law, state law-enforcement officials could also be fined up to $1,000 and charged with a misdemeanor for enforcing federal gun laws.

This month Missouri a bill making it illegal to enforce federal gun laws passed the state’s House of Representatives with a 117-43 vote.

AP: “Missouri House passes bill aimed at nullifying federal gun control laws”:

Under the bill, which passed with enough support to override a possible veto, Missouri would refuse to enforce past, present and future federal gun control laws that are deemed to be infringements on gun rights, and residents would have the right to sue law enforcement for enforcing such laws.

Pro Publica took a look at this recent wave of nullification laws, in “Nullification: How States Are Making It a Felony to Enforce Federal Gun Laws”:

Mobilizing the pre-Civil-War doctrine of “nullification,” these bills assert that Congress has overstepped its ability to regulate guns — and that states, not the Supreme Court, have the ultimate authority to decide whether a law is constitutional or not.

Nullification is a fancy term for lawlessness. These states say they just will not follow federal law, and will stop the government from trying to enforce its laws.

The Danger In Letting This Continue

Conservative media and politicians have been whipping up anti-government sentiment for decades, and it has morphed into hatred of our government. The right has dropped any pretense of patriotism, and is now escalating into direct confrontation with, and efforts at destruction of, the federal government.

“Nullification” was the strategy of the states that left the United States, leading to their civil war against the United States. This was not “patriotism,” it was hatred of the United States. Now nullification is again a strategy of anti-government conservatives – people who hate the government of the United States. Has nullification become a New Normal for conservatives? And will the US government let them get away with this lawbreaking?

The Civil War was supposed to have decided that states cannot just “nullify” federal law, picking and choosing which laws suit them.

Nevada Senator Harry Reid said this week, “These people who hold themselves out to be patriots are not. They are domestic terrorists.”

What Next?

There is another danger. This “victory” combined with the outpouring of support from Republican politicians and the conservative media apparatus has emboldened these extremists. A Reuters report, “After Nevada ranch stand-off, emboldened militias ask: where next?”, looked into what the conservative extremists are planning to do next.

Energized by their success, Bundy’s supporters are already talking about where else they can exercise armed defiance. They include groups deeply suspicious of what they see as a bloated, over-reaching government they fear wants to restrict their constitutional right to bear arms.

… “Americans showed up with guns and said, ‘No, you’re not,” before confronting the armed BLM agents, Jones said in a telephone interview. “And they said, ‘Shoot us.’ And they did not. That’s epic. And it’s going to happen more.”

Militia experts interviewed by Reuters said they could not think of another example in recent decades where different militia groups had banded together to offer armed resistance to thwart a law enforcement operation.

Allowing this sort of armed public intimidation to succeed is undermining support for rule of law; the government looks weak and appears tolerant of defiance of law; the worst, most extreme elements are encouraged.

In the 1990s there was a similar frenzy of conservative media and politician government-bashing. At that time they were also claiming that the government was imposing “tyranny,” fanning the flames of the worst extremists, etc. This led to the confrontations at Ruby Ridge and then Waco, where anti-government extremists actually murdered law-enforcement officers, leading to standoffs. Worse, the conservative media support for and encouragement of the extremists along with denunciation of government for confronting them triggered the Oklahoma City bombing.

A dangerous precedent is again being set by conservative media and politicians who are supporting and amplifying the extremists and their declarations of hatred for the United States government.

In Bundy Ranch standoff sets dangerous precedent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Jay Bookman explains,

Through armed intimidation, they have succeeded in blocking the execution of federal court orders. And having apparently succeeded in facing down the “federal tyrant” with armed force, there’s all the more reason for them to try it again.

Right-Wing Extremist Violence Is For Real

This is for real. A recent op-ed by Peter Bergen and David Sterman at CNN pointed out that,

“Since 9/11 extremists affiliated with a variety of far-right-wing ideologies, including white supremacists, anti-abortion extremists and anti-government militants, have killed more people in the United States than have extremists motivated by al Qaeda’s ideology. According to a count by the New America Foundation, right-wing extremists have killed 34 people in the United States for political reasons since 9/11.

By contrast, terrorists motivated by al Qaeda’s ideology have killed 21 people in the United States since 9/11.

… Moreover, since 9/11 none of the more than 200 individuals indicted or convicted in the United States of some act of jihadist terrorism have acquired or used chemical or biological weapons or their precursor materials, while 13 individuals motivated by right wing extremist ideology, one individual motivated by left-wing extremist ideology, and two with idiosyncratic beliefs, used or acquired such weapons or their precursors.”

Even so, as Bergen and Sterman point out, ‘Despite this history of deadly violence by individuals motivated by political ideologies other than al Qaeda, it is jihadist violence that continues to dominate the news and the attention of policy makers.”

What If These Were Not “Conservatives”?

Finally, the question has to be asked: What if these extremists were not “conservatives”?

What if a group of armed american Muslims had challenged the federal government and threatened to shoot federal officers for trying to enforce the law? What if a group of Black or Hispanic activists had shown up with rifles to block enforcement of a federal law? What would Fox News and Drudge Report and other conservative outlets and Republican politicians be saying? What would they be demanding the government do in response? Just imagine.

This is an example of an armed group using intimidation to get their way. That is not how things are supposed to be decided in the United States. Ryan Lenz, a writer for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors militia group activity asked the key question, “Do laws no longer apply when the radical right no longer agrees?”


See also:

Wednesday evening Rachel Maddow has been looking at this history of right-wing violence:

And see The Nevada Standoff Has Nothing To Do With “Tyranny,” “Sovereignty,” “Freedom,” or Cows. about the Koch / ALEC link.


This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary